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The Dinner Guest

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  556 ratings  ·  92 reviews
The story goes that in my family theres an extra dinner guest at every meal. Hes invisible, but always there. He has a plate, glass, knife and fork. Every so often he appears, casts his shadow over the table, and erases one of those present.

The first to vanish was my grandfather.

In 1977, three terrorists broke into Gabriela Ybarras grandfathers home, and pointed a gun at
Kindle Edition, 160 pages
Published March 1st 2018 by Vintage Digital (first published September 3rd 2015)
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Gabriela Ybarra was born into one of the most prominent Basque political families. Her grandfather Javier fought for the Spanish Nationaists in the civil war and was mayor in the 1960s. In 1977 he was kidnapped by the Basque separatist group ETA from his home and assassinated when his family couldn't come up with the ridiculously high ransom demanded. The family continued to have threats made against them for the next thirty years with a bomb once sent to her father in 2002, who had to have a ...more
Paul Fulcher
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
My mothers death brought back my grandfathers death. Before it, the killing was just a pair of handcuffs in a glass case next to the bronze llamas that my parents had brought back from Peru. The tedium of illness recalled the tedium of the wait during the kidnapping. My father began to talk about blood-stained rosaries. It would be months yet before I could understand his pain.
To have a grave in the forest would be lovely. Perhaps I should hear the birds singing and the rustling above me. I
Apr 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, 2018-mbi
This is a very short book that I really enjoyed reading. On reflection, after finishing it, it does feel as though large parts of it are missing and it would have been better if it were longer and some of the threads of story that are introduced and then ignored had instead been developed. It is a book of two parts. In the first, the author gives us a "free reconstruction" (i.e. based on fact but with things added) of the kidnapping and eventual murder of her grandfather. This was a real event ...more
Viv JM
Whilst there were certainly some poignant moments in "The Dinner Guest", it was just too meandering and directionless for me and I don't think it will make much of a lasting impression.
Apr 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: review
Intimated story of the author and her family (with the focus on kidnapped grandfather and dying mother) is painted on the historical background - the terrorist activism of the separatist group ETA in Spain. It is an emotional story, but without excessive sentimentality, and precisely this narrative voice is the strongest element in this average, but very readable story. For now ⭐⭐⭐ but I have a feeling that this is a slowly sneaking up story ... ...more
lark benobi
Aug 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: spain, 2019, she-2019
This very short novel is a fascinating read, if only for its relationship to fact, and for the way Ybarra chooses to explore her factual family history inside a fictional framework. For me it was a study in the challenges and limitations of autofiction.

The first chapter is an astonishingly understated story about the real-life kidnapping and murder of Ybarra's grandfather. Subsequent chapters about Ybarras mother's death from cancer are equally astonishing, in a completely different way.

Andy Weston
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Media summaries of this novella concentrate on the kidnapping and murder of the narrators grandfather by ETA terrorists in 1977, however it is not a plot-driven novel at all, rather a meditation on loss, both personal and public.
I need to be careful in launching any criticism against the publicity; though it is usually what attracts the reader it is so often exaggerated or, as in this case, inappropriate. Instead, if I had read what it is actually about, I probably wouldnt have read it. I tend
Tom Mooney
Aug 14, 2018 rated it liked it
THE DINNER GUEST by Gabriela Ybarra.

This Spanish non-fiction/novel, longlisted for the international Booker, is essentially a meditation on dying.

Ybarra's family are an inherant part of the establishment in the Basque country and so have long been the targets of separatists. In 1977, six years before she was born, her grandfather was kidnapped and murdered by ETA.

The Dinner Guest recounts his killing alongside a very personal account of Ybarra's mother's losing battle with cancer.

Though the
Before Gabriela Ybarra was born, her grandfather was murdered by ETA, the Basque national resistance in 1977. Javier de Ybarra was the mayor of Bilbao in the 1960s. After his death, the family lived with a police escort. Their life was altered.

In 2010, while Gabriela was studying in New York, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Gabrielas personal life was altered.

The story begins at a fast pace reliving the tension, fears, stress and the horror of the family dealing with the kidnapping. Time
I didn't love this one, or like it much at all, which is an exception for me among the Man Booker International nominees. The novel as a whole felt very thin, with only the barest veneer of the fictionalfine, very good to draw from life itself, but only if you say something substantial. Ybarra begins the story with a promising anecdote about a ghostly dinner guest, drops it immediately, and never really picks up the thread of anything imaginative later. She reimagines her grandfather's ...more
Bob Lopez
Hmmm. Sort of fell apart for me after her mother's death--lost of aimless chapters and subchapters, I thought; a little too meandering for my taste. The stuff about her grandfather was interesting but only touched upon lightly; the decline of her mother's health I also found vague, but it was genuine if not altogether sentimental--it did make me consider...mortality for a bit.
Jun 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

3.5 Stars!

So with themes of violent kidnapping, murder, terrorism and terminal cancer, its safe to say that this book will not find its way onto most peoples feel good reads of the year. But thats not to dismiss this debut outing altogether.

The Dinner Guest was originally published in Spain back in 2015 to wide acclaim, taking home the Basque, Euskadi Literature Prize in 2016. Ybarra has a pleasing and fresh enough style, and credit should go Natasha Wimmers translation. Due to the many real
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Dinner Guest
by Gabriela Ybarra
Translated by Natasha Wimmer

In 1977, 3 terrorists broke into the home of Ybarras grandfather, pointing a gun at his head as he was taking a shower, he was kidnapped and the last time his family ever saw him. His kidnapping ended in a brutal murder that was printed in the press and media.
Ybarra was told this piece of family history at the age of 8. She is now grown and caring for her mother, dying of cancer. Her mothers death begins Ybarra to discover
Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this for my literature in translation book discussion group - it's a lightly fictionalized account of true events, by a Spanish Basque author whose grandfather was kidnapped and murdered by Basque separatist terrorists. The style is very literary and epigrammatic - an interesting read, though I wouldn't say gripping or pleasant, with some echoes of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, since the author also explores her own grief over her mother's death from cancer.
Apr 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very difficult to judge, and not even pretending to be objective. This got to me for personal reasons and I felt it deeply, so even if I understand some of the criticism this book has gotten (not so much the meandering but lack of following on some themes), I cannot help but to applaud the author's honesty, the simple yet beautiful writing, and the knot it created on my stomach.
Erica Mangin
Sep 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I liked the writing style and both the "stories" regarding the kidnapping and murder of her grandfather and then illness of her mother. However it read like a non-fiction and bore little resemblance to the blurb advertising the book about a dinner guest. It felt a bit disconnected.
Mar 20, 2018 rated it liked it
In 1977, three terrorists broke into the home of Gabriela Ybarras grandfather, taking him by force. The first half of The Dinner Guest follows her research into what actually happened. This book blurs the lines between true crime and fiction to create a unique narrative. However, The Dinner Guest doesnt stop there; the book is also centred around Gabriela Ybarras mother dying of cancer.

The story goes that in my family theres an extra dinner guest at every meal. Hes invisible, but always there.
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
From my review at

"The Dinner Guest is a book that Gabriela Ybarra started writing after her mother died. The writer became frustrated with the obituaries being written for the woman who raised her but felt unable to capture her mothers essence within her own writing. So she looked back over the last few months of her mothers life and tried to come to terms with death being introduced to her life. However, Gabriela soon realised that her entire life had been haunted by death
Subhajit Das
"The story goes that in my family theres an extra dinner guest at every meal. Hes invisible, but always there. He has a plate, glass, knife and fork. Every so often he appears, casts his shadow over the table and erases one of those present."

Memories and experiences are like some gems that one collects throughout his or her life: not all are worth the money. Some even might disappoint the owner. But they're all, nonetheless valuable.

Almost unbeknownst to our own consciousness, we create and
This is a tough one.

I did like reading this book, but it also left me very frustrated. It's autofiction, and autofiction drives the historian in me CRA-ZY. This story is--or is based on--the author's family. The first section is about the kidnapping and murder of her grandfather by Basque separatists, 6 years before she herself was born. The second half is about her mother's decline and death from colorectal cancer when the author was an adult--her mother's death led her to explore her
This is the first novel for Spanish writer, Gabriela Ybarra, translated by Natasha Wimmer who also translated Robert Bolano's 2666 and The Savage Detectives. The Dinner Guest reads like memoir but it also blends fiction to change some facts.

Gabriela was born in Bilbao in the Basque country of Spain to one of the 10-12 most powerful political families in Vizcaya. Thus, her private life and political life of her family intertwine. As such, there were constant threats made to her family by a
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Dinner Guest discusses the power of memory and the power of representation. What do I remember? What was I told? How did the media present the truth? How did the media distort reality? These are the questions that Gabriela Ybarras narrator asks herself.

And there are serious questions to answer with crime and family tragedy at the novels heart. In places the prose is economic, but this adds to the reporting quality of the narration. As the story progresses, Ybarras voice (with the help of
Laura McGaha
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The NPR link below is a great review of this book. I will add only that Ybarra starts with some facts of her life, then adds her imagination to fill out the story. But the story is not linear or complete in that she carefully curates the moments she's willing share - zooming in microscopically to reveal these moments to the reader, then zooming back out and down the timeline to reveal the another moment. And we-the-readers are both grateful to see what she reveals and desperate to know what ...more
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm a bit reticent about this book, mainly because I know very little about the Basque separatist movement that Gabriela Ybarra's grandfather falls victim to, and where I fall on the political spectrum in relation to the Ybarras. Is it a bit of an appeal to empathy for those in power and on the wrong side of history? Maybe! I'm not sure yet! Even beyond that, it's not necessarily great in terms of structure and conceit, either, doing very little of interest with the connective fibers between the ...more
This is not the kind of book that I normally read so I dont have much to compare it with, but I found it to be very moving. Im not entirely sure the two strands of the story (the death of the authors grandfather and mother) hang together perfectly, and often I felt uncomfortable reading some of the intimate descriptions of her mothers illness, but for me it felt like a very genuine, restrained but at the same time haunting account of living with illness and grief. ...more
Björn W
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A skillfully written story about the loss of a mother and a grandfather, unconnected but linked in this novel. What is true and what is fictional does not matter. It all comes together in a story that feels real, presented in superb, straight forward writing. The book is emotional without being dramatic, terse and eventful at the same time. It is convoluted but in a quiet and harmonic way.
I loved this book from start finish and look forward to more writing from Gabriela Ybarra
Jordan Chapman
Sep 19, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Ultimately did not completely work for me. Dont get me wrong, Ybarra is a capable writer, but the narrative seems to be missing something - interiority? She doesnt seem to truly engage with her subjects - her father, her mother, or even her grandfather and the ETA terrorists.

The first part works better than the second, and it shows glimpses of what she could accomplish outside of autofiction. Interested to see more from her.
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A grandfathers abduction and murder. A mothers death. Two grim events are jumping off points for this remarkable debut autobiographical novel. Ybarra first learns of her grandfathers murder as a young girl, but her family, one of the ruling class families in the Basque region of Vizcaya, chooses not to talk about it afterward- nor do they speak of the threats that the next generation lives with. As a young woman, feeling unmoored after taking care of her mother during her ultimately fatal ...more
Terry Pitts
May 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The Dinner Guest is a first novel about family, secrets, and death, and is largely based on Ybarra's own family history. The novel intertwines two stories. One is the kidnapping and murder of her grandfather in 1977 by Basque terrorists, the other is the death of her mother from cancer, which causes the release of yet more family history that she had never known before. Ybarra knows that fewer words can have greater emotional impact and drama. She packs a lot into 144 pages.
Claire | bookswithclaire
I can't decide whether I liked this book or not. I would have enjoyed learning more about the topics she brought up, especially because it is far from my own culture so there was a lot I didn't understand. However it made me think a lot and reflect on my own experiences and I really appreciate that.
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Gabriela Ybarra (1983) lives in Madrid. "El comensal" is her first novel.

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